All images by Abhishek Yellapu. Used with permission.
“The camera really helps focus my energy in a way that is calming yet exciting for me,” explains photographer Abhishek Yellapu to us in an interview. “I took a few long exposure shots (with an ND filter held up to the phone’s camera lenses), and they were pretty impressive, never would have imagined taking decent long exposure shots with a phone camera.” Abhishek isn’t necessarily new to photography. In fact, it’s in his family’s blood. But he’s in love with his Sony Xperia 1 II. As his companion camera, it’s helped him document so many of his fun activities through life.
Talk to us about how you got into photography.
My dad used to work for Canon in the 90s. He used to have a Canon EOS rebel G. I remember being a kid and wanting to take pictures like my dad, so I used to take my dad’s camera every chance I got to capture random moments during family gatherings or trips. Hence, it became really easy for me to associate fun / adventurous times with photography, and it just became a habit to bring a camera with me almost everywhere I went.
What made you go for the Sony Xperia 1 Mk II? What does the phone do for you that’s so much different than other phones you used? What do you think of the Photo Pro Camera mode?
I really struggled with the choice to get a Sony Xperia 1 Mk II. When the Xperia 1 Mk 1 came out, I was completely enamored with the 21:9, 4k display, but the price was a bit hefty, and I was a bit unsure how the support for android updates would be (coming from a pixel 3xl). What really convinced me was when I saw that Sony’s eye detect autofocus system was included and that the photo pro app lets you control many aspects of the shot compared to the Pixel 3xl. You didn’t have much control over shutter speed and ISO.
I would say having the Sony Xperia 1 Mk II initially felt like a bit of a trade-off, I lost a few things like wifi calling and “night mode” for getting night time pictures, but I got a huge battery (lasts me more than a day). I was able to gain control of what I was shooting. The analogy that comes to mind would be having a manual transmission car vs. automatic transmission. The Sony giving you full control of its excellent hardware capabilities allows you to be more engaged and creative with your shots. What really drives me to use my phone for photos now, even over a DSLR at times, is the ease of use mixed in with having full control. For example, I can capture raw images on my phone, edit in lightroom mobile, and pretty much instantly have the photo shared on whatever social media platform I want; Versus, using my DSLR, getting the pictures, importing them onto a computer editing in LRcc, exporting and then finally sharing the shot. Other than the camera, the aspect ratio (21:9) was pretty intriguing. I personally am not a huge fan of the increasing sizes of phones so the Xperia 1 II was naturally a great fit.
The Photo Pro app makes all the difference for me. It is a simple, intuitive control panel for your camera. It’s hard to imaging shooting the shots I did without the photo pro app. The control it gives you vs. shooting with the regular camera app is a stark difference. Especially since the phone’s camera’s dynamic range is pretty good, I can plan my shot better, I will typically shoot a tad bit on the darker side. I can set my iso lower or shutter speed lower and pull up shadows/ blacks in post with the photo pro app. The sheer level of control in a phone camera is fantastic, especially when coupled with the great hardware.
As far as a phone goes, what has this phone been able to do for you that previous phones haven’t?
Honestly, this phone has been a complete media monster from the camera to watching movies or even listening to podcasts or music on Spotify. I find myself using my phone way more often than even my iPad. I think the 21:9 aspect ratio was an amazing decision by sony. It makes the phone feel compact yet large at the same time. I think the aspect ratio also helps take pictures. The phone feels less like a block you are holding. The dedicated shutter button has proved to be way more useful than I would have thought. It just goes back to having more control and great dynamic range on the camera side of things. I took a few long exposure shots (with an ND filter held up to the phone’s camera lenses), and they were pretty impressive. I never would have imagined taking decent long exposure shots with a phone camera.
How did you get the main photos?
I love taking road trips, and I have been to Yosemite a few times in 2020, but I had a week off during a transition between jobs and decided to head back to Yosemite to sneak in a quick hike. My first stop was supposed to be the Yosemite falls trail; however, when I approached the valley loop, the valley looked amazing due to the contrast of the tree’s color changing and the snow that blanketed the ground knew it would be a perfect shot to take. I wanted to do a little bit of an experiment and take pictures with both my DSLR and my Xperia 1 Mk 2. Instantly, I felt that the Xperia 1 Mk 2 offered more instant gratification because I saw the resulting image on a hi-res screen. It basically offered instant feedback for focus and color. However, the DSLR’s image quality was sharper, and the image had a higher resolution.
(Referring to the second pictures with the lake) I remember this moment well. It was such a calm day, right after a massive storm passed through Yosemite. In fact, before taking this picture, I just sat by the water for a bit to take in the fall colors and the moment’s serenity. For this image, I wanted to get some of the fall colors reflected on the water. I actually set my phone up on a tripod so I could experiment with a few different settings. If I had a better ND filter set up, I think I would have been able to get a few nicer shots. All the images I tried to get with an ND filter did not turn out so great because I held the ND filter (meant for a DSLR) over the phone camera lenses.
Where do you draw inspiration from? Hiking? Instagram? Reddit? National Geographic? Tumblr? Anywhere else?
I tend to draw inspiration from other celebrity type photographers who shoot for either National Geographic or have their own studios. For example, a few of my favorite photographers are Chris Burkard, Ira Block, Jimmy Chin, David Guttenfelder, Paul Nicklen, Drew Rush, and Michael Yamashita. I personally also just love nature and being outside. I feel extremely drawn to do something outside/outdoors at least 2x a month, just to get out of the everyday routine so I can breathe and relax for a little bit. The camera really helps focus my energy in a way that is calming yet exciting for me.
What do you mostly end up shooting with your phone? What attracts you to that subject matter?
I typically try to shoot mostly Landscape photographs with my phone. Still, this phone isn’t really your typical camera phone, so I have been more comfortable photographing much more than just landscape photos. I feel like landscape shots can sometimes be fairly challenging because it can be quite difficult to make your images stand out, so experimenting with different angles and lenses really helps with that. And once you finally get the right combination and capture a truly unique or beautiful landscape, it can be a pretty gratifying feeling.
What has the phone taught you about photography?
This phone has taught me a ton about photography. It’s definitely made me try and get a little bit more creative with how I shoot, in the sense that I now have so much flexibility with how I want to angle images (due to the phone’s form factor vs. an SLR). I have way more flexibility with what settings I want to use. Usually, phones will try to automatically choose your settings for you, which removes a part of the photographer’s soul. I found that this freedom and flexibility actually make many images look very similar to the images taken from a DSLR. There were a few side by side images I took from both the Xperia 1 Mk 2 and a DSLR (Nikon D7500), and a lot of people were not able to tell which photo was from a DSLR and which one was from my phone (Photographers though, will be able to tell). I do not think I can completely replace my DSLR with the Sony Xperia 1 Mk 2, but it feels like the perfect Companion to my DSLR. I often find myself taking test shots with the Xperia 1Mk II and experimenting with the scenery before getting the DSLR out. I think the main takeaway for me, at least, would be that the saying about how the best camera there is, is the one you have with you really holds true when you have an Xperia 1 II in your pocket.